Posts Tagged ‘family’

Family Graves near Clinton, Kansas

March 28, 2018

 

To have lived a decade here
before I found these names:

        Edith Smetzer
        Daugh. of D. & E. Smetzer
        Died 1886
        Aged 14 days

Her infant bones the earliest in the churchyard.

        John Smetzer
        Died June 18, 1892
        Aged 74 years, 5 months, 15 days

At 61 he had been the oldest of the Ohio Smetzers
to travel west to Kansas
and disappear.

These things I have heard of my great great uncle:

        that he was illiterate,
        that he never married,
        that he was a hired man,
        that he was the only man of his family
                never to own land.

And I understood that he moved westward
        across the land
like a lateral root
hardly disturbing the leaves.

So here you ended, old uncle,
your plot open to the sky,
buried more deeply in your faint depression
        of earth
than ever you plowed.

It is evening.
Light blue still marks the western edge,
but the sky above is growing higher, thinning,
falling back through darker blues
to the blackness behind the stars.

And you, uncle, are still thinning
        in your darkness,
still dissolving into this place I’ve come to.
The twilight dissolves my family name
and leaves me open to a field of stones.

Years from now, my great nephew’s children
        may hear of me:

        that I never married
        that I worked for wages,
        that I never owned land.

And I would like them to understand
that I was an illiterate of the earth,
as transient in my time as John in his,

as transient really as Edith there,
who never knew the soil
before it closed her in.

 

First published in Kansas Quarterly.

 

Discussion

This poem was first published when I was 39 and an aging bachelor. Much has changed since, including my knowledge of John’s life. “Smetzer Graves” would make poor genealogy today. Fortunately it is not a genealogy or a biography, but a poem.

Poets and fiction writers often start out writing about themselves, people close to them, and their feelings. But no matter what grammatical person a poem or story uses, in the end it turns out to be about a much larger “us.”

 

My great grandfather Michael Smetzer and an unindentified man.

My great grandfather Michael Smetzer and an unindentified man.

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Great Aunt Ada’s Gifts vs. the Trump Presidency

June 2, 2017

 

Watching the Trump presidency unfold is one amazing performance after another. It is entertaining. It is riveting. It has comedy. It has dramatic suspense. And it is personally frightening. Frightening because Trump’s theater is the real world and all of our lives hang on his lines.

I wish watching the Trump presidency were more like opening presents from a great aunt I’ll call Ada. Ada either sends English regimental ties when I haven’t worn a dress shirt in years. Or creative hand-knit socks that are like nothing I’ve worn since my mod phase in the sixties.

Aunt Ada means well and she loves me. She’s just out of touch with my life. When my aunt sends a useless gift, no one’s life is destroyed, democracy is not undermined, and the very continuance of civilization is not threatened. The only note of suspense is “will it be a tie or socks?”

Aunt Ada does no harm. I toss the tie or socks in a bag for Goodwill. Then I write her a little thank-you note, adding I hope she likes the present I sent, which I suspect is equally useless to her. And we both get back to our separate lives. Sort of like my relationship with Trump when I just saw him for a few moments on The Apprentice as I was clicking through channels on a dull night.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

Detail from "Sunset" - Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer

Detail from “Sunset” – Acrylic Painting on Wood by Mike Smetzer

Mr. Richards and Cora

May 26, 2017

 

A Sunday couple in a front pew.
Mr. Richards sat full face to the sermon,
aware of the girls batting eyelashes
toward his designer collars,
his careful graying hair. He walked
among us, distant and slightly amused.
Cora paled beside him, forgotten,
like some pressed flower,
like a plaque honoring a career goal
he once set and met.

With colleagues at his club,
he tasted the steward’s Beaujolais,
the chef’s steak bordelaise,
its flavor rich from the marinade,
Crème brûlée with his evening coffee.
In the kitchen at home she
crumbled cornbread into beans,
her mother’s scarf tightened
around her forehead
like a truss.

When Cora visited his office,
Mr. Richards asked her to type.
She settled in, like an oyster
growing pearls. She opened
the clogged arteries of his files,
warmed his clerks and his clients
to smiles. Now she is the candle
at his corporate lunch,
its honey glow, the halo
he always wanted for his crown.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

Swimmers, painting by Mike Smetzer

A Present for Mother’s Day

May 11, 2017

Got an email from Uncle Ezekiel today. Zeke has figured out what to give his wife Jezebella for Mother’s Day. Some good George Dickel Tennessee whisky. No. 12. She don’t drink sipping whisky herself, but Aunt Jezzy tells folks: “When old Zeke falls asleep early and stops badgering me, that’s the sweetest gift I ever get in life.”